“No matter how responsible he seems, never give your gun to a monkey.” Unknown
Let’s talk numbers, or in this case, a number. Take the number 617. It really isn’t an unusual number, but an important one as of today. You don’t need to remember it; it will change sometime today or tomorrow or soon. Why is it important? It is the number of mass shootings that have occured in 2022. Wow, you might say, or not, it seems Americans are inured to the simple truth that Americans are dying from gun violence in mass shootings almost daily; sometimes more on any given day.
The number 40,272 isn’t interesting itself. It is only when you attach lost lives to it that it becomes macabe. The number represents the lives lost to this point in our country to all gun related violence. Still, it is a hard perusal on the reality of America and a topic not highly publized. This information and more can be found at Gun Violence Archive (GVA). The site states, “Gun Violence Archive (GVA) is a not for profit corporation formed in 2013 to provide free online public access to accurate information about gun-related violence in the United States.” Since 2014, mass shootings jumped from 269 a year to 617 (and counting) in just eight years. Rational thinking people would understand there is something tragic going on in America, and nothing has been done to address the issue. The question is, “Why aren’t more people scandalized by these numbers?”
Of course, it would be naive to believe it is only about the deaths. While tragic and heartbreaking, they take a back seat to the poitical drama that surrounds mass shootings. America has been hijacked by gun rights enthusiasts and groups like the National Rifle Association. They are quick to pull out the Second Amendment card and amp up the fear that somehow some politician would be dumb enough to actually go after their guns. Indeed, I think most Americans support the Second Amendment and would actively work to keep it unsullied and in place. It isn’t about the right to bear arms; it is about the types of guns that are the issue. Assault rifles that were meant to be used in combat environments flood the American gun sales market year after year giving killers more sophisticated “tools” to ply their trade and kill victims who are almost universally unarmed and unsuspecting of what is happening. It is equally hard to become a statistic whether you are four years old or eighty years old, but that is the reality in America in 2022.
Much of the blame has to land on the Republican Party, and their immovable stance on gun control. In an article titled “Democrats vs. Republicans on the Second Amendment” on the website PoliticianCompare, Aditya Utturkar writes:
“Republicans’ stance on gun control stems from a deep-held belief in personal liberty and individual responsibility, and gun ownership being an extension of the right to self-defense. Republicans claim it is their right to protect themselves, family and private property from criminals, corrupt government, and war-time invasions . . . In addition, the National Rifle Association supports and funds several Republican lawmakers while also having a political lobby of their own. This adds a distinct dimension to Republican lawmaking that does not exist with the Democrats.” Source
The key words “to protect themselves, family and private property from criminals, corrupt government, and war-time invasions . . .” are at the heart of the matter. No one should be held legally liable for taking up arms to protect themselves, their family, or private property if such force is warranted. These are the basic rights of all Americans. However, “defending against corrupt governments” is a little questionable. When was the last time a foreign country threatened a modern day American household? Some would argue that the truth denying zealots who attacked the United States Capitol on January 6th did just that in defense of their actions. The salient point, though, is that the issue was not one of the government being corrupt, but the actions of one man who duped his adoring followers into committing an insurrection on false grounds. Donald Trump has to take the credit for that, and if all things are equal, he will face indictment in the days to come.
While some on the right would call the modern day clash between progressive liberals and conservative extremists a “war-time invasion”, the reality is much different. The rise of right wing militia is partially responsible, but blame again has to be placed on Trump and his deranged followers who will believe anything he says as the truth. No sane person thinks that the 2022 election was rigged or riddled with voting irregularities. The proof is there to be reviewed by anyone willing to read the federal and state reports certifying the election.
It would be presumptous to claim the rise in mass shootings is an outgrowth of the Republican’s “hands off” policy on gun control. However, the availability of military styled, rapid firing rifles like the AR-15 and the AK-47 are certainly a part of the problem. Semi-automatic pistols capable of firing multiple rounds per second from extended capacity clips are often the weapon of choice by mass shooters. While there are exceptions like the Euvalde school shooting where police and state officials refused to confront the shooter for well over an hour, most of the killings occur in a matter of minutes. The use of high quantity clips is not a choice of fate, but one premeditated to allow the gunman to kill the highest number of men, women, and children in the least amount of time.
While gun legislation is only a dim light at the end of a politically fraught tug of war, many on both sides of the arguement cite diminished mental capacity as the source of the issue. Politicians argue that rather than controlling the sale of the above mentioned weapons, they focus on the mental state of the killers. They argue that the most effective way to control this situation is to keep guns out of the hands of people unable to understand the difference between right and wrong. Wrong being entering a school, church, or workplace and opening fire on anyone that crosses their path. On the face of the mentally incapacitated argument, this seems like a logical explanation, however, the facts don’t back up the reality of mass shootings.
Dr. Ragy Grigis is an associate professor of clinical psychiatry in the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry and the New York State Psychiatric Institute. He is one of the most renowned voices on mental illness in the field. In a paper he and his colleagues published in January of 2021 for the publication Psychological Medicine (cambridge.org/psm), they found some interesting data that throws doubt on the validity of the mental illness argument as an impetus for mass shootings. Grigis notes that an estimated 5 % of mass shooting are related to severe mental illness. His team also found,
“. . . the contribution of mental illness to mass shootings has decreased over time. The data suggest that while it is critical that we continue to identify those individuals with mental illness and substance use disorders at high risk for violence and prevent the perpetration of violence, other risk factors, such as a history of legal problems, challenges coping with severe and acute life stressors, and the epidemic of the combination of nihilism, emptiness, anger, and a desire for notoriety among young men, seem a more useful focus for prevention and policy than an emphasis on serious mental illness, which leads to public fear and stigmatization.”
Oddly enough, Grigis states when mental illness is the cause of mass killings, those individals are “much less likely to use firearms than other methods, such as arson or knives.”
So, who are mass shooters and what motivates them to act out on dark impulses that end in a high body count? Part of the answer goes back to “the epidemic of the combination of nihilism, emptiness, anger, and a desire for notoriety among young men” noted above. In our overheated social/political malise that engulfs the country today, mass shooters turn to acting out on thier alienation taking lives to assuage their own internal dialogue/turmoil that casts them as angry outsiders, possibly helpless in their own eyes to achieve anything remarkable.
Many have suggested in lieu of labeling mass killers mentally ill they more accurately should be called domestic terrorists. In an opinion piece titled “It’s time to call mass shooters — and those that inspire them — terrorists” by Thom Hartman, he writes about mass killers,
“. . . . nobody’s calling them terrorists, and that’s a problem for America.
We didn’t call the jihadis who blew up the Twin Towers “mentally ill,” “disgruntled,” or discuss their “troubled past.” We correctly called them terrorists because they used mass murder to try to “right a wrong” or achieve a political goal, which is the literal definition of terrorism.”
Calling them domestic terrorist may not stop any future mass killing events, but it would certainly put a more realistic spin on the tragic phenomena that seems to be with us for the conceivable future.
Looking back at the beginning of this post started a week ago, I stated that the number 617 was not an unusal number. It represented the current number of mass shootings in America. Today, the number is 622. The total causalties for all gun violence was 40,272 last week. Today, the number is 41,358 and growing. Let that sink in.